Pakistan’s future in GSP+ scheme

State needs to realise that these NHRIs are part of it and the more they are empowered to play their role, the more they would bring good name to the country

The Second Generalised scheme of preferences (GSP+) assessment report of Pakistan, covering the period 2016-17, prepared by Europe Commission is out now. Unlike previous first report, the current report is comprehensive which makes holistic and critical overview of level of compliance Pakistan has made within the reporting period with twenty seven international laws covering four fields, viz human rights, climate change and environmental rights, labour rights and good governance. Any state which plans to gain GSP+ status has to be a signatory of such twenty seven international laws.

The report shows that the largest share of preferential imports from ten GSP+ countries assessed in 2016-17 came from Pakistan which accounted for 74 percent of all GSP+ imports in European Union countries. Such immense trade and financial benefits reaped by Pakistan from GSP+ status puts an obligatory liability on Pakistan to pay it back in the form of fulfilling and honouring rights guaranteed in those twenty seven laws and relevant legal and constitutional framework of the country.

The report maintains that Pakistan’s human rights record remained mixed within the reporting period. It implies that country has made impressive progress on the policy and legal side, whereas, on the contrary, its progress on substantive and implementation level is low. For, custodial torture, enforced disappearances, extra-legal killings continue to occur; nature, environment and fresh water bodies are polluted; forced and child labour prevails and denial of unionisation and its reduction perpetuate in labour sector.

The report maintains that Pakistan’s human rights record remained mixed within the reporting period. It implies that country has made impressive progress on the policy and legal side, whereas, on the contrary, its progress on substantive and implementation level is low

However, the overall tone of the report suggests that GSP+ status of Pakistan will be continued against the fears rose earlier which suggested otherwise. This is of course great news which will benefit country more. Civil society as a whole in Pakistan was in favour of continuation of this status for Pakistan. It advised same to European Union at national and international level.

The report suggests that Pakistan needs to focus more on implementation of existing human rights laws rather than focusing only on policy and legal aspects. Mere focus on policies and laws may not further be welcome by international community in future. It is now very evident that country has so far established satisfactory institutional, legal and policy framework on human rights, it should thus now focus more on realisation of those human rights.

The report has appreciated role and work of national human rights institutions (NHRIs). However, most significant and noteworthy feature in this regard remains that the credit of the work done by national human rights institutions especially by National Commission for Human Rights is given to the state in the report. Thus, state needs to realise that these NHRIs are part of it and the more they are empowered to play their role, the more they would bring good name to the country.

It is evident in report that the outcome documents of recent reviews of Pakistan made under various human right treaties such as, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading (CAT), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) are referred frequently. It implies that Pakistan needs to focus on developing strong compliance with recommendation given in such reports. Not only this, but also Pakistan will have to give serious consideration to the outcome document to be generated from upcoming review of its progress on Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The report also discusses recently held third Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan. Thus, Pakistan will have to make sincere efforts to implement recommendations that will be reflected in outcome document.

Collectively, in efforts to improve human rights situation in the country so as to keep GSP+ status intact in coming years , Pakistan needs to make a road map on how to implement recommendations provided or to be provided in the outcome documents of aforementioned human rights treaties and reporting mechanisms. It also needs to strengthen treaty implementation cells which have been established at provincial and national level.

More specifically, at labour side, Pakistan needs to make serious and genuine efforts to abolish forced, bonded and child labour by effectively implementing existing policies and laws at national and provincial level. It also must make sure that right to collective bargaining, fair wages, health and safety, and gender-non-discrimination are protected in labour sector. At environment and climate change side, government needs to go beyond policy and legal commitments; it needs to make sure that water bodies remain clean; drinking water is provided safe to the people; engendered species are protected; Indus Delta is restored; flora and fauna of Thari are protected against ills of coal mining and coal-based energy generation and ocean is left to remain safe from further pollution. At human rights side, freedom of association, assembly and expression need to be ensured in the country. Writers, journalists, bloggers and rights activists need to be left free to exercise their right to freedom of expression and association. The illegitimate bars placed on Civil society organisations including on international non-governmental organisation (INGOs) should be withdrawn. Rule of law and constitutionalism should be established.

In case, Pakistan is reluctant to improve human rights situation and goes against aforementioned suggestions, it might not be possible for it to retain GSP+ status in future through mere act of developing legal and policy framework on human rights. It is prime time for state to go beyond laws building to concentrate more on core spirit of human rights so that it continues to get benefits from GSP+ plus and catch recognition at international level including in United Nations.

The writer holds a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Democratisation from the University of Sydney. He can be reached at jamilb4u@gmail.com and tweets @Jamiljunejo

Published in Daily Times, February 2nd 2018.